As veterinarians, sometimes we are called to put out a fire after the house has burned down.
From vaginal prolapses that were replaced last year and again this year, to going out to look at a pen of calves that had 10% mortality, it is frustrating to receive first notification after the opportune point of intervention.
Instead of going bald from pulling our hair out when this happens, these situations can be an opportunity to educate our clients on better recordkeeping practices. If we can show our clients how to keep better health records, and at the same time take initiative as the veterinarian to do some of recordkeeping, then we can benefit through increased profitability and more job satisfaction.
For starters, consider the vaginal prolapse cow. Most of the time these cows show up again not because the client didn’t intend to sell her after she raised her calf, but because he simply forgot. If you stick an ear tag in her with the word “cull” written on it, it’s a lot harder to forget she needs to go. Plus, you sell the tag at your normal markup. The end result is you made a few extra cents on the tag and the client didn’t have to pay for the prolapse replacement service again next year.
Translating this into a larger scale gets more complicated, but has greater rewards. A low-hanging fruit is the small farmer/feeder. Often this client has feed records, but little to nothing in the way of health records. There are numerous options for them to use, from purchased electronic programs to programs supplied by animal health companies. Even simpler yet are paper records, for which you can create basic templates, attach to a clipboard and send to the feedyard.
The key to making these effective is to have morbidity trigger points that necessitate veterinary intervention. For example, if a pen reaches 10% morbidity, then the client calls you to come and discuss the problem with him. This affects your business by giving you the consulting time and/or product sales, and is more satisfying because you get to intervene before it is too late.
Cow/calf clients could also benefit from recordkeeping, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. The Six Number System, advocated by doctors Tom and Jim Furman of the Animal Center in Alliance, Nebraska, is a great starting point for ranching records. In this system, ranchers need to keep track of six values for every calf crop. These are:
1) The number of cows exposed to a bull
2) The number of cows bred at preg check
3) The number of live calves born
4) The number of calves that were branded or turned out on to grass
5) The number of calves weaned
6) The number of calves sold
The first value functions as the denominator for the other five values, culminating in the calf crop value (number of calves weaned per number of cows exposed). The point of these values is to identify where breakdowns in creating the sellable commodity (the weaned calf) occurred. As veterinarians, we know what percentage we should expect at every level. If we pass this information on to the clients, then together we can address issues at the time they are recognized and not several months down the road.
Client compliance with recordkeeping systems is often the biggest challenge. Creating compliance will take some help on your end. Rather than make badgering phone calls or nag every time you see clients to create compliance, ask specific questions about how certain pens are doing. On the cow-calf side, ask specific questions about health issues, such as scours or summer pneumonia, focusing on numbers affected. This naturally leads into the records the client should be keeping, and prods them toward compliance without being too abrasive.
The end result of helping your clients with health records is more profit for your client and a better working relationship with you as the veterinarian. These interactions can open the door to the paid consulting opportunities, such as data analysis or heifer selection decisions, because you’ve proven to be more than a preg checking arm or prolapse replacer.
While these techniques will not eliminate all our ‘firefighting” efforts -- nor will you be able to convince all clients to create record systems -- it will strengthen your relationship with the progressive clients that will stay in business through good times and bad. Those are the relationships that make a veterinary business thrive.